Missing biker drove off cliff by Fort Ross
Police say Santa Rosa woman's death an apparent suicide
Thursday, September 29, 2005
By DEREK J. MOORE
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Melinda Moore left helmet, gloves on rock.
The search for a missing Santa Rosa motorcyclist came to a sad conclusion Wednesday with the discovery of Melinda Moore's body in a crevice on an 800-foot cliff near Fort Ross.
Authorities said the 40-year-old Moore had placed her helmet and riding gloves on a rock as a marker before gunning her red Aprilia Tuono motorcycle over the cliff's edge.
Halfway down, her body caught on a bushy outcropping. The motorcycle sailed on, smashing on the rocky beach.
"We're looking at this as an apparent suicide," Santa Rosa Police Sgt. Steve Bair said.
The discovery brought an abrupt end to a weeklong search that included hundreds of motorcyclists from across the Bay Area, private pilots, off-duty search and rescue personnel and a private investigator.
"Melinda's body and bike have been found. Our hearts and thoughts are with Melinda's family and friends," read the message on www.findbigred.com, a Web site created by her friends to share information and organize searchers.
Late Wednesday afternoon, a Santa Rosa police detective, a patrol officer and a chaplain arrived at Moore's Saddlehorn Court home to deliver the grim news to her fiance and about a dozen friends.
Mark Hindman, a motorcycle parts entrepreneur, had offered a $5,000 reward for information leading to Moore's whereabouts. He sobbed loudly when told his fiancee's body had been found.
Adam Wade, a friend from San Mateo, said, "To some extent it's a relief to know what happened. But it's obviously not the news anybody wanted to hear."
Moore, who had worked as a saleswoman at a Santa Rosa BMW dealership and was taking marketing classes at Santa Rosa Junior College, left the house last Monday, ostensibly bound for class.
Friends said she was depressed for a variety of reasons, including health issues and struggles at school. She also was absorbed in a lawsuit stemming from a motorcycle crash that broke both of her arms.
But that sadness seemed to be offset by a rich sense of humor. Moore was a member of the Bay Area Menstrual Cycle Club, an all-female riding group. A photo in her living room shows her wearing a T-shirt that reads, "Does my bike make my butt look fast?"
"Melinda was this huge Amazon woman, a bundle of energy," Wade said of the 5-foot-10 Moore, who was known as "Big Red" for her vibrant red locks.
Friends said Moore was there for other people in need and had counseled others out of taking their own lives. Nobody saw her final act coming.
Bair said an abalone diver stopped to pick up Moore's helmet and gloves after spotting them on a turnout of Highway 1 on Sept. 19, the same day she rode away from her home in Santa Rosa.
The Sebastopol man contacted authorities Wednesday after reading news reports of her disappearance. He led detectives to the site later in the day.
Bair said the spot where Moore died is known as "High Point" because the cliffs there are among the highest on the Sonoma County coast.
The area is about three miles south of Fort Ross on the twisty and scenic road, just the kind Moore liked to ride to clear her head. Bair said the cliff where she went over is on a turnout about 50 feet from the highway.
He said detectives spotted the body and motorcycle, which couldn't be seen from the road, after they hiked down a steep trail to the beach and looked back at the cliff.
The sheriff's helicopter was used to remove Moore's body using a long line and a litter. She was taken by van to the coroner's office in Santa Rosa.
She was still clad in her leather riding gear, Bair said.
Maybe she was taking a break and tried to keep the bike from rolling off the cliff and got caught in it?
Any other evidence (tire marks?) that suggest she did it on purpose?